Fewer people are riding the Northstar Commuter line according to figures recently released by Metro Transit, but officials with the transit agency say they see some encouraging signs in the data despite the disappointing numbers.
Overall, ridership from January through October totaled 589,686. That is 13,215 fewer rides than taken during the first 10 months of 2011, or a drop of 2.2 percent.
But losses have slowed since Metro Transit lowered fares on Aug. 1 in an attempt to increase the number of riders. In the three months since fares were cut by up to $1, ridership on the 41-mile line the runs from Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis is 8 percent higher than what was forecast, said transit agency spokesman John Siqveland.
Also helping boost ridership is a new station that opened in mid-November in Ramsey. In the first two weeks of service, 1,700 passengers have boarded Northstar trains at the $13 million facility at 7550 Sunwood Drive.
Metro Transit projected a daily average increase of 200 riders per weekday with the addition of the Ramsey Station, but early returns have surpassed that. Service at Ramsey begain Nov. 14, and more than 300 passengers boarded during the first two days of service.
However, there was no charge to ride on those two days. Siqveland said the typical Monday and Tuesday workdays of Nov. 19 and 20 will probably be a better barometer to judge the impact on the average weekday ridership. Still, the 263 rides provided from Ramsey on those two days beat projections.
"We probably won't be able to get an initial sense of steady average weekday ridership until probably the week before the Christmas holiday," Siqveland said, noting that last week was a short week with the Thanksgiving holiday and no train service the day after.
Metro Transit officials attribute much this year's losses in passenger traffic to the poor performance of the Minnesota Twins. Ridership to games at Target Field was down 16 percent from last year.
With ridership falling, Metro Transit cut fares in an attempt to win riders back, or gain new ones. Fares went from $7 to $6 in Big Lake, from $5.50 to $4.50 in Elk River, from $4 to $3 in Anoka and Coon Rapids, and from $3.25 to $3 in Fridley.
At $3, train riders now pay the same fare as those who ride express buses during rush hour.
Although weekday commuters are the rail line's primary audience, Metro Transit operates the Northstar line for special events, too. It will offer rides to the final two Vikings' home games this season. The train also will have service to the Holidazzle parades on Saturdays through Dec. 23.